Pricing translation services in 2022

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Some people say: “New year, new me”. This clichéd saying usually applies to our personal New Year’s resolutions, but does it relate to our business practices as well?

Thinking about new approaches to work and setting new strategies can be exciting and rewarding. For example: “I will do a new CPD course this year”, “I will be more active on LinkedIn”, or even “I will take more time off work and reserve some me time every evening”. Having a clear objective and a clear plan will help get you moving in the right direction.

But there is an elephant in the room. Finances. We all need to earn our living and translators are no exception. Nonetheless, they can be reluctant to discuss it, let alone get to grips with the issue, so that they can price their work based on its real worth.

Let’s look at some of the most common pricing issues we face as translators.

1. We don’t have enough experience, so we volunteer or work for peanuts.

This one is for the newbies in the translation industry. We all had to start out and it can be hard and scary. It is natural and obvious to charge less if you are gaining valuable work experience. I was tempted to cut corners and offer low rates ten years ago. Low rates compared with what I charge now. The truth is that we should always have our personal minimum, no matter how (in)experienced we are. This boundary is important because even if you have to work under stringent conditions as a newcomer, you will still not feel exploited, and you will not harm the industry as a whole.

2. We have years and years of experience, but the average market price is X.

I got one of those emails recently. Something like: “We had the chance to carefully analyse your rates and compare them in the context of the global market. Please note that our proposal takes into account the possibility of providing jobs on a very regular basis”. You could think at first that this is a valid approach and be tempted to significantly reduce your rates, but this would be a mistake in the long run. If you already have enough better paying regular clients, why would you lower your rate only in exchange for quantity? You would be missing out on new, better opportunities. So, if you can, politely decline and stick to your terms. You are running a business – you should not thank anyone for offering you work. Or worse, feel guilty about your decision of rejecting their offer. Being firm and decisive in the above-mentioned scenario was a great choice in my case. They agreed to my rate (double of what they initially offered) for any future projects that are more complex and that will need more care and higher quality. Win–win.

3. We charge per word or per page.

Charging per word or per page is a standard approach in the translation industry. The problem is you don’t always know how much time you will have to spend on a certain text or project. Some documents require more work, while others require less. Charging per hour is a great alternative and a way for you to get more consistent finances. Unlike translation, localization work, language consulting, or language testing are usually paid by the hour. When I started working on these kinds of projects, I learned that my per-word rates should also be based on my hourly rate. As soon as you see the document, you can estimate how much time you will need for a certain number of words. For example: “This text containing 250 words will take me one hour to complete”. Let’s say you charge £40 per hour. The word per rate you need to quote is £0.16. No surprises.

4. We are asked to do machine translation post-editing (MTPE).

Asking translators to edit texts previously translated by machines has gained momentum in recent years. Since the machines still produce a significantly worse quality than decent human translators, editing could potentially save you some time typing. But wait! You still have to read the source, compare it with the machine-generated output, and then think again about how you would translate that from scratch. I recently read a small translation study stating that translators actually need more time to post-edit MTs. This job is comparable to a bilingual review, so no wonder it is unpopular among translators. Not because they fear technology and progress, but because they are expected to do a harder task for half the price. This makes no sense. Having said that, MTPE has its purpose and application for texts that don’t require high-quality (for example, just to get the gist of what is being said). And I would certainly be willing to scan the text and do light post-editing for that purpose. However, expecting MTPE to provide a publishable-quality text for a fraction of the real cost is unrealistic and should be discarded, for now at least.

Pricing in times of economic crisis

Consider all the above questions and issues alongside your pricing strategy. In usual market conditions. Under normal circumstances. But what should you do when we know that we are living amid a global health and economic crisis?

I am a realist and while I am very adamant about advocating our worth as a community, I also like the Croatian saying “Ne traži kruha preko pogače” (Do not ask for bread if you have tortilla). This means that we should be truly grateful for what we have achieved and where we are in our career, and not get lost in the useless quest of insatiably asking for more. Knowing what you’re worth but being grateful and not greedy is an artform for me and one of my ultimate business goals.

But then again, there are tough times like this when we are bombarded daily with news about increasing inflation, both in Europe and around the globe. Should we increase our prices or cower in fear of losing our client base? I have read many news articles about various craftspeople in Croatia such as mechanics, tailors, or hairdressers significantly raising their prices because of the soaring cost of materials. And of course, the entire world population is currently being severely affected by the increase in prices of everyday goods, gas, and other resources, which spills over to virtually everything. A high rate of inflation affects everyone, including translators, and we have to adapt to it.

To conclude…

Wallet with dollar banknotes

Croatian translators have recently discussed this problem and concluded that they have no choice but to increase their rates. In these circumstances, it is absolutely appropriate to ask for more, and I will follow suit. I do not see this as like the time when I asked for a raise for my great work. It isn’t a raise, but a fair price adjustment. Knowing my clients, they will be understanding. I expect that they have thought about increasing their prices as well or have already done so.

And one final tip. When telling your clients about your new rates, give them enough notice so that they can prepare. Respecting your clients is as important as respecting yourself.

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